Encountering the Hobo

Do you remember your first job, the one with an actual paycheck? I remember opening that first pay envelope and seeing a check for about $30, big money for 1963. Yet I was disappointed to see what they had taken out of my paycheck. I was told it had to do with death and taxes. It was Railroad Retirement and union dues. I was the fill-in-where-needed summer vacation relief Yard Clerk for the Miami railyards of Seaboard Airline Railroad (CSX today). I was working there because my father was one of the Yard Masters.

The railyard is where incoming and outgoing freight cars get sorted out and sent off to their various destinations. My job was to inventory every box car, flat car, tank car, hopper, engine, and caboose on more than a dozen tracks. I listed the cars on a form sheet in exact order, by numbered track. My job also included climbing on top of box cars and over to refrigerator cars to check the level of ice they contained before they left the yards. It also meant I learned how to step up on and jump off a moving freight train to save me walking to the other side of the yard. This is harder than it sounds at 3 a.m. on a moonless night. 

The only time I was really frightened was one afternoon when, lost in thought, a voice inside a box car suddenly shouted out, “Hey, boy!” I jumped. There, right before my eyes, were three grizzled hobos. They wanted to know the time. I had never seen a real hobo in person. I had heard about them and even watched Red Skelton play one many times on TV. We call them the homeless today, but a hobo was supposed to be someone who traveled the rails in search of work and a place to build his family. People provided extras for the hobos: extra food, extra clothes, and a place to spend the night between train rides. Some hobos took advantage, but most were genuinely grateful. 

Times changed and the emotionally wounded, physically afflicted and financially insecure have found themselves with fewer trains to ride. Our Wednesday night outreach to our community provides emergency supplies—bags of groceries, extra clothes, a listening ear and promise of prayer. I invite you to join us as a volunteer in prayerfully ministering with our neighbors and those who may be passing through. 

Keep healthy. Pray mightily. Enjoy your life today. Get on board. And let’s experience the love and power of God together. 

Share this webpage: Facebooktwitterpinterestlinkedin